Ah Derrida, bel espirit and alchemist of obscurity. Can we ever understand you?
Several years ago, I first came across Jacques Derrida's iconoclastic theories through Of Grammatology, a scathing critique of descriptivist theories of language which contests the widely held view that written word's main purpose was to serve as an representation of verbalized speech. The main problem of this view was that speech was then seen to be closer to the logos (Greek word for cosmic law/rationality) of truth or meaning. This led to logocentrism, which stresses that speech and not writing was more central to the understanding and formation of language..
Logocentrism leads to 'the metaphysics of presence', a belief that the present thoughts and representations (something happening here and now) are more inherently real than the thoughts, ideas and representations recorded in the written word (which may be recorded in the past). In other words, speaking or speech is presence and writing (without an author around) is absence. So what's wrong with this picture? In Of Grammatology, Derrida warns that this logocentrism might lead to ethnocentric and phonocentric conceptions of language and culture. This logocentric tendency he says, is shown in the work of Ferdinand de Saussure and Claude Levi Strauss.
For Derrida, speech and writing are both equally important in the formation of language and art and each form and equally manifest both presence or absence in unique ways of representation.
I never really did fully appreciate the relevance of Derrida's work as it relates to public sphere. However, I've recently came across Deconstruction in a Nutshell, a book involving Derrida in a roundtable discussion on the importance of Deconstruction. Funny how his writings became much clearer to me when he speaks.
When drawing a parallel with the implementation of new academic programs in a University he was speaking at:
That is what deconstruction is made of: not the mixture but the tension between memory, fidelity, the preservation of something that has been given to us, and, at the same time, heterogeneity, something absolutely new, and a break.
Derrida's response when asked about the reading of foundational Greek texts in this postmodern age:
Deconstruction is not a method or some tool that you apply to something from the outside. Deconstruction is something which happens and which happens inside; there is a deconstruction at work within Plato's work, for instance..within the Timaeus the theme of the khôra is incompatible with this supposed system of Plato
So, we have to go back constantly to the Greek origin, not in order to cultivate the origin, or in order to protect the etymology, the etymon, the philological purity of the origin, but in order first of all to understand where we come from. Then we have to analyze the history and the historicity of the breaks which have produced our current world out of Greece, for instance, out of Christianity, out of this origin, and breaking or transforming this origin, at the same time. So there is this tension made, and that is the finitude of our condition. (9)
Derrida on the concept of unity and diversity in political culture and ideology:
I think we do not have to choose between unity and multiplicity. Of course, deconstruction–that has been its strategy up to now.-insisted not on multiplicity for itself but on the heterogeneity, the difference, the disassociation, which is absolutely necessary for the relation to the other. What disrupts the totality is the condition for the relation to the other. The privilege granted to unity, to totality, to organic ensembles, to community as a homogenized whole–this is a danger for responsibility, for decision, for ethics, for politics. That is why I insisted on what prevents unity from closing upon itself, from being closed up. This is not only a matter of description, of saying that this is the way it is. It is a matter of accounting for the possibility of responsibility, of a decision, of ethical commitments. (13)
Derrida talks more about cultural identities and the individuality/collectivity within communities:
That is, the identity of a culture is a way of being different from itself; a culture is different from itself; language is different from itself; the person is different from itself. Once you take into account this inner and other difference, then you pay attention to the other and you understand that fighting for your own identity is not exclusive of another identity, is open to another identity. And this prevents totalitarianism, nationalism, egocentrism, and so on.
Nevertheless, one of the recurrent critiques or deconstructive questions I pose to Heidegger has to do with the privilege Heidegger grants to what he calls Versammlung, gathering, which is always more powerful than dissociation. I would say exactly the opposite. Once you grant some privilege to gathering and not to dissociating, then you leave no room for the other, for the radical otherness of the other, for the radical singularity of the other.
I think, from that point of view, separation, dissociation is not an obstacle to society, to community, but the condition. We addressed this a moment ago with the students. Dissociation, separation, is the condition of my relation to the other. I can address the Other only to the extent that there is a separation, a dissociation, so that I cannot replace the other and vice versa.
That is what some French-speaking philosophers such as Blanchot and Levinas call the "rapport sans rapport," the relationless relation. The structure of my relation to the other is of a "relation without relation." It is a relation in which the other remains absolutely transcendent. I cannot reach the other. I cannot know the other from the inside and so on. That is not an obstacle but the condition of love, of friendship, and of war, too, a condition of the relation to the other.